This was an epic trip! We covered 5,000 miles in about 9 days. The route took us all the way to the town of Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories. Yellowknife is on the banks of Great Slave Lake, which is one of the largest lakes in North America. It is where the Ice Roads start in the winter and where the famous show “Ice Road Truckers” originates.
I worked hard for a few weeks getting ready for the ride. I stayed in touch with Ray and Steve to let them know what I was packing. We swapped ideas pertaining to gear and whatnot. Steve came over to my house the Saturday before to help me do a full service on my 1200 GS. We all put a brand new set of tires on as well using Ray’s tire changer. I put Shinko 705’s on my bike. I waterproofed my gear with Nikwax and bought a much bigger dry bag to strap on the back to haul more gear and keep it dry. What about gas? Well, to give me some piece of mind I wanted to bring an extra gallon. So I had to find a way to mount it on my motorcycle. I ended up taking my back seat off and mounting a rotopax on there with a couple bungie cords. Worked like a charm!
Finally, I had a visit with my doctor to hopefully take the pins out of my broken thumb. I really didn’t want to do another ride (especially 5,000 miles) with my splint on! Well, unfortunately the doc said that I needed to leave the pins in and he was probably right. It was better to ride with the protection of the splint. I had already ridden to Vancouver with the splint, so what the heck!
The trip started out on a Thursday. We all met up around 4 PM and took off in the blazing heat. It was really hot that day as we rode north on I-15 from Salt Lake City. We rode on and through the night until we reached Montana. I had looked on Google maps before we left for a place to camp. I saw a place called Clark Canyon Reservoir, which was just outside Dillon. We got there right as it was getting dark and actually found the place that I saw on the map. They had free camping too…score! We rolled out a tarp and our sleeping bags and slept under the stars.
We rode into Dillon for gas, then to Butte, where we grabbed some breakfast at the McDonalds. From there we kept working our way north with a fuel stop in Cascade and then we finally hit the Canadian border. After crossing, we jumped on a much bigger freeway and passed Calgary, where we could see some leftover flooding.
When we got to Edmonton, we did not have any idea where to stay. This is where we could have planned a little better. Steve figured out all the gas stops, but nobody looked for places to camp or stay. We usually just wing it, but this was a big city. We killed some time riding to a few hotels. Some were full and others were very expensive. We even tried calling some RV parks in the area. No dice! It was nearly 10PM and they didn’t want 3 hoodlum motorcycle guys rolling up that late.
So we decided to keep rolling to north Edmonton, where the poor planning got even worse. We found ourselves riding through the downtown area at midnight looking for anything. What a joke! We finally made it to the city of Spruce Grove just outside Edmonton. Ray and I wanted to crash at a nearby park and save the Cash. Steve wasn’t feeling that adventurous and didn’t want to wake up to cop sirens in the middle of the night. Well, in the end we crashed at a dive motel. It was a 15 hour day with 12 in the saddle, covering 700 miles.
We woke up and felt pretty tired after the late night, but this is how these trips go and its part of the experience! From Edmonton we rode all the way to High Level, Alberta. It was a lot of flatlands and boy (as we learned the next couple days) was this only the beginning of the flat and straight stuff.
When we got to High Level, we found a “decent” place to camp. We rolled up to this place and saw a guy that we nicknamed “Joe Dirt” because he was cooking on a meat on the grill with no shirt on and he had a mullet. The place did have a few bugs, but we roughed it and set up our tents. First though, we caked on some bug spray, then we made dinner. The sun didn’t go down until about midnight. Steve and I were up making dinner and taking pictures of the sunset. Ray went to bed, otherwise he would have been hammered the next day after the late night in Edmonton. It was really weird having the sun stay up for that long. CRAZY!
We rolled out of High Level pretty early and headed even further north and into the Northwest Territories. We stopped at the famous 60th Parallel sign and got some good pictures. It was around that point that we noticed the bugs getting much bigger. You could feel them smacking you as you rode down the road. It felt kinda like hail when they hit. Little did we know that this was only the beginning of the crazy huge fly’s that they call bulldogs. It was also the start of the really old gas pumps in very small towns with basically only a gas station in the entire town! We were just happy to put in whatever grade of fuel they had. It was a mixed bag and we had to go inside every time, because our cards never worked in Canada.
The roads were long, straight, flat and went on for miles. We saw many signs that warned us to watch out for bison and yes we did see them. The road got progressively worse on the way to Yellowknife. It was really rough with potholes everywhere. When we finally got there, we stopped at the tourist office to get the skinny on camping areas and whatnot. We didn’t realize that it was Canada Day weekend…whoops! They sent us up a road that had about a dozen lakes along it. We found a camping place near one of them. It was a nice area and we met a friendly local guy that chatted with us for a while about our trip and looked at our maps with us. After dinner and a shower, we set up our tents and tried to get some sleep. This was a little tough because it doesn’t get dark up there! It only turns to dusk for about 45 minutes. The campground was also very active well past midnight. You can imagine how hard it is to get kids to sleep when it never gets dark and it was a holiday weekend!
Somehow I convinced Ray and Steve to take a hike to a waterfall while we were in Yellowknife. We had to ride up a dirt road to access it. This was a good warm up for the dirt roads that we were going to ride later in the trip. We rode up quite a ways, almost to the point that road ends and turn into a lake. This is where the ice roads start in the winter.
The hike wasn’t too long and had a great payoff. It was a very large and beautiful waterfall. I took a zillion pictures from every angle and then we hiked back. We then went back into Yellowknife to get some fuel and supplies. This was the halfway point of the trip, so we needed to snag a few items and it was a good sized town. We also ate lunch at a really cool and historic restaurant called The Wildcat Cafe, which was built in 1937. I had some trout, pretty good but expensive. On our way out of town we stopped for some glamor shots on the banks of Great Slave Lake.
That night we made it back to Fort Providence, which was the place where we ate earlier in the trip and we all agreed that they had the best food. Ray accidentally tipped his bike over in the parking lot. The back of his bike was so top heavy and the kickstand wasn’t holding it up very well. The windshield clipped my bike and broke. Dang now what? No option but to ride at this point! We ended up staying there for the night, it being our best option in the middle of nowhere. This “motel” was very interesting. Two double wide trailers hooked together.
We blasted off early from Fort Providence. It had been raining a little over night, which felt good from the heat and knocked a few of the bugs down. Ray was without a windshield and this was going to be the first test without it. This was also going to be the first taste of long sections of dirt road for Steve. It wasn’t too far out of town that we hit dirt. The Mckenzie highway turned into the Liard highway. The roads were pretty decent to start out, but we did hit some sections that had road construction. One of them delayed us for about 20 minutes.
Eventually we rolled up to the magnificent Sambaa Deh Falls and we stopped for some pictures. It was a very impressive waterfall and section of river. When we got to the junction to Fort Simpson, we headed for the ferry. This was going to be a visit simply for gas. Ray and I didn’t have enough fuel to get to Fort Nelson. So we boarded the ferry after more delays due to road construction.
This was a small ferry, which took us across pretty quickly and wasn’t too much trouble. When we got off, we rode a few miles into town and stopped at the ONLY gas station. That is when we got a bit of a scare! The gas pump said “out of gas” or something on the pump. Now there was a diesel pump, but that wouldn’t work! So we had a bit of a panic moment. This was a very small town and we didn’t want to have to wait around for fuel! So Ray went inside and asked about it and it turned out that only nozzle #1 was out. We didn’t notice that there were two nozzles on the pump. Lucky!
We crossed back over the river on the ferry and were on our way. From here we joined more dirt roads. Some of these roads had very deep gravel, which caused what I called a “death wobble” to your bike. At certain speeds the back and front of my bike started to sway back and forth like a fish. It was pretty scary and I thought I was going to go down a few times. We eventually crossed the border into British Columbia and joined some really nice pavement that took us into Fort Nelson. Where we found a nice RV park to camp for the night. We were able to do laundry and spray a few of the bugs off our bikes. The radiators were caked!
After a good nights rest, we headed out for Prince George. We ate a nice breakfast in Pink Mountain and saw some bears along the way. We were also able to stop at mile zero of the Alaska Highway in Dawson City. We flirted with the idea of trying to make it to the Yukon, but it would have added 1,000 miles and we just didn’t have the time. Ray’s top case was holding up despite the abuse it took on the dirt roads. We noticed during a construction stop that the bracket was cracked and so the case was just barely holding on. We fixed that with some clever redneck tie down engineering!
When we arrived in Prince George, we rode around as usual looking for a motel. Eventually going back to the first motor lodge that looked good after we toured the entire city! This is when things got interesting. We were making a U turn to pull into the motel on the other side of the road. I saw a cop sitting at the light as I spun around. Well, sure enough he turned his lights on and came after me. Steve and Ray keep going and headed for the hotel! They thought Ray might get busted too for making the illegal U turn right behind me, so they split. The cop or “mountie” let me know that the light was red in addition to the illegal U turn. I gave him my license and all that jazz. He asked where I was headed and obviously noticed I was touring from out of the country. He ended up being really cool and told me about some local places to eat and stay. No ticket! This would not be my only encounter with the law on this trip.
We were all stoked to be headed for Banff National Park and Jasper. The towering mountains awaited us, so we geared up and took off. We arrived in Jasper first, where we stopped for fuel and lunch. Then it was on to more awesome mountains. It started raining pretty hard just outside town. I was tempted to stay in Jasper, so we could really enjoy Banff National Park the next day in better weather. We reluctantly decided to put on our rain gear and just go for it. It did rain for a little while, but we still managed to get some excellent photos and the rain eventually subsided as we neared the town of Banff. The park was absolutely fantastic…a must ride on a motorcycle.
We made a stop at Lake Louise for some photos. What an awesome lake! Incredible blue water against the white glacier snow capped mountains. It was getting dark so we needed to find a place to stay. We asked around and heard about a camping place just down the road. When we rolled up, the campground had some signs that warned about a recent bear sighting. It had the normal chewed up coolers on display and whatnot. On our way into the campground to find our spot, we saw a very large grizzle bear just over the fence. There was an electrical fence around the entire campground, which made us feel a little better. There were swarms of people taking pictures of the bear. We kinda hurried in to set up camp and make dinner.
Steve headed off to meet his son in Dillon Montana to ride home with him, so Ray and I headed for Glacier National Park. First we stopped in Banff for a few photos and some souvenirs. After a few detours, due to the flooding in Calgary, we finally made it back across the border. Glacier was really cool. It was similar to Banff and an awesome ride. I took a zillion pictures in the park and that is where I got in touch with the law again. I was taking some pictures of some big horn sheep in the same place that other tourists were 10 minutes before I got there. The ranger wasn’t too happy that I was that close and the fact that I was “yelling” at them to get their attention. Whoops!
After we finished in Glacier, we continued to head for Missoula. It was getting dark very quickly as we left the park and as we passed the very long Flathead Lake the sun went down. It was still a long ride to Missoula, so we stopped for a burger, then kept rolling. We didn’t end up getting there until 12:30 AM, so we found a dive motel and hit the sack.
We woke up pretty tired from the late night, but ready to ride again. we decided to ride over to Bear Lake Idaho because we had family staying in Fish Haven. So we rolled out of Montana and into Idaho with a stop in Salmon for lunch and a nap for Ray in Challis. This ride through Idaho is a good one. It follows the Salmon River and Lewis & Clark Trail. The twisites are really fun, with just enough scenery to keep you interested.
We jumped on the familiar I-15 for a while, then bolted off toward Montpelier and on to Bear Lake. We spent a day with Family before returning to Salt Lake City. What an incredible trip!